Nik and I spent two days and two nights in Agra, saw two places, rode in two rickshaws, and met two groups of two people.
For two hours on October 2nd, the Taj Mahal was free to all visitors. The unexpected generosity (that saved us 1500 Rs) was due to the end of the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan. I don’t know the religious significance of this month long period, but when I have the opportunity, I would like to do some research.
South Gate of Taj Mahal
We took advantage of this time to see the beautifully built memorial and watch our first Muslim prayer. There were thousands of men standing in rows at the mosque with the leader’s voice broadcast over loud speakers. They began in a standing position, and in unison bent at the waste, stood upright again, knelt and bowed their heads to the floor, then stood upright once more. This sequence was fascinating and beautiful, and I feel very fortunate to have been a witness.
Devotees walking to prayer
While their fathers and brothers prayed, the children circled around the shoes at the back.
Other than that, the Taj Mahal was nice. It was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The masses of people were distracting, and I only had a few fleeting moments where I felt one with the architecture. The details of the marble were impressive, especially the colored inlays and carved light screens. I have heard that the emperor cut the hands off the stone masons that built the memorial so that they could never replicate it. I hope it is not true, but if it is then I am sad that so many people suffered because of this structure.
Children in front
Sanscrit set in marble
View towards the Western Mosque
Gardens of the Taj Mahal
On our second day we had breakfast on our guesthouse roof and met another couple that is traveling through India. Marie and Thomas are French Canadian and French, respectively. We chatted through breakfast and then they joined us on our trip to the Red Fort.
Rooftop at Shanti Lodge
The entry fee is steep, 250 Rupees, but well worth it. The complex is a rambling series of outdoor rooms made of red sandstone and white marble sprinkled with dry fountains and bizarre niches. A lot of the detail has been restored so imagining the grandeur of the place is not hard.
View towards the river
Fountains: Many of the fountains were detailed with this black, grey and white marble zig-zag. I wish we could have seen water run over it though.
In Ruins: The front area is in a state of disrepair, but is still beautiful.
A Romantic Moment
The most unfortunate part of the visit was the young Indian men that would come up to me every 5 minutes asking to take my picture with themÅ“. Nik’s theory is that they hang around the fort because this is the only place they can get close to a girl. He suggests that they probably don’t even have film in their cameras. He is probably right, and after the first 10 I did start to feel violated. I often had to leave a room because they would not leave me alone when I told them I wouldn’t pose for a snapshot. If they hadn’t been there, I could have spent all day at the fort and I would have taken a lot more great photos, but because of the annoyance, we left after a couple hours and enjoyed the solitude of our hotel room for four hours before our night train to Jodhpur.